Defining Worship (1)

Worship. You talk a lot about it. You extol its virtues and preach its value, and it puts you on a spiritual high ground when you talk about its importance. Although you know it when you see it, and can tell when you feel it and experience it, it can be nebulous and mystical when you try to define it. For some, worshiping is simply closing your eyes, lifting your hands, and being really, really, really, earnest. For others, it is maintaining a standard of quality and order in following a liturgy. For still others, it is singing some songs, hearing some preaching and seeing a response to an altar call.

The fact that we can’t clearly define it doesn’t stop us from worshiping. That’s a good thing. God made us to worship Him. Innately recognizing the importance of worship, we naturally try our best to lead it in the right way. Many of us plan worship by attempting to reenact meaningful worship experiences that we’ve had in the past. You try to duplicate the same forms, orders, and techniques that you perceived were present in those experiences, as you try to duplicate your personal mountaintops of worship in the lives of others. Of course, this is very subjective.

I once worked with a pastor who grew up in a small rural church with an informal style of gospel music. During college he attended a large, formal downtown church. Because it was what he knew and liked, his ideal expectation for music in worship was informal gospel with a smattering of high church elements. By the time he became a pastor, he naturally assumed that his idea of worship was the way it was supposed to be.

All people can have their ideas about proper worship, but those ideas can be quite different as they come from different experiences.  Unfortunately, people are prone to assume that their way is the right way.

The clearest instruction comes from Jesus as He tells us that we are to worship God in Spirit and in Truth. However, nowhere in the Bible is there any kind of directive as to style or proper practice.  So we end up relying on our own unique mishmash of experiences, memories, and influences to form how we see worship. Often, we know what we like and we like what we know.  This may come from our church experiences, camps, conferences, conventions, mission trips, individual worship and thought leaders who have impacted our lives, and churches and movements that we’ve come to admire from afar.

Think about your mishmash. Your background, experiences, memories and associated feelings, tradition or your reactions against tradition all influenced and shaped you. How have they formed your approach to leading worship? Do you unconsciously assume that others actually share these same memories and the good feelings associated with them? They don’t. Your good feelings and memories are important, and should not be discounted. You will never completely disassociate from them, nor should you. However, the worship you lead should not be based solely on your good feelings but also on what will bring the greatest benefit to the lives of those who you are leading.

Worship is not about your preferences, but about encountering the Living God. So the worship you lead should be designed to help people to encounter Him and not fulfill your preferences. The self-awareness of knowing yourself, and acknowledging your biases can help you to be more sensitive to the needs of others, and as a result be a better leader of them.



“Well done is better than well said.”  – Benjamin Franklin

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”  2 Timothy 2:15

Principles of Public Prayer

It was in college when I got my first music leader job in a church. On one of the first Sunday nights in that church, I was leading the hymn before the offering. When the hymn was over, I looked at one of the ushers who had come forward to receive the offering and said, “Brother Jimmy, will you lead us in prayer?”

He looked straight at me, shook his head from side to side and said, “No.”

Red faced, I stumbled through a prayer myself. I learned then and there to never call on someone without clearing it privately with them in advance. However, that still didn’t necessarily change my approach to public prayer. While I tried to be appropriate in the prayers I led, I rarely thought about what that meant, or about teaching others how to pray publically.

Most of us at least give lip service to the importance of prayer in communicating with God both personally and in gathered worship, but we can minimize public prayer by treating it in a perfunctory way, giving it little thought when we lead it, or advance notice or guidance to others when we call on them to pray.

Make no mistake prayer is important. It is heartfelt communication with God and is an integral part of the relational encounter with God that is worship. You can and should affirm the priority of prayer as you plan and lead worship.

Prayer involves Adoration (praise), Confession (actually think about and confess our sin), Thanksgiving (expressing thoughtful gratitude), and Supplication (bringing God our petitions and requests. There is no reason to neglect any of these elements as a regular part of public worship.

Be intentional as you teach through your words and example about public prayer in worship. Though public prayers and personal prayers are not the same thing, public prayers provide a model for private prayer, whether for good or ill. People will imitate what they hear in public prayers in their private prayers, and when they pray in public. What kind of model will you give?

It was customary for the 1985 Chicago Bears football team to have a chapel service each

Sunday morning before games.

One week, Coach Mike Ditka called on William “Refrigerator” Perry to lead in the Lord’s


Quarterback Jim McMann leaned over to the Chaplain who was seated next to him and

whispered, “Watch this. This is going to be rich! Fridge doesn’t know the Lord’s Prayer.”

The chaplain whispered, “Oh, I bet he does.”

McMann countered, “I bet you 50 bucks that he doesn’t”.

The chaplain agreed to take the bet.

Perry began, “Now I lay me down to sleep…”

McMann disgustedly reached in his pocket and gave the chaplain $50, and muttered, “I

never would have thought he would have known that!”


Be careful what you teach about prayer through your content or lack of it. People hear, learn from, and imitate your words, and attitude whether good or bad.


Public prayers should speak for all of the people. They are not simply personal prayers that use the word “we”.  Prayed on behalf of all of the people, public prayers should express the concerns of all of the individuals present. Some people may be feeling close to God but others don’t even want to be there.  Some just had a fight with spouse or children on the way to church or may have a severely fractured relationship. Some are excited and jubilant and others are depressed and fearful. Some are deeply concerned and stressed out. Some need comfort, some need wisdom some encouragement, some, hope. All people need to be reminded of God’s love, grace, and care, and of the reality of His presence.

You see, everybody is not in the same place emotionally or spiritually, and the voiced prayers need to be appropriate expressions for all. You can’t just speak for yourself when praying publically.

Public prayers are lines of communication between people and God.  They include our expressions to God and God’s words to us. Public Prayer is not the place just to communicate with one another. In fact, it devalues prayer to use it as simply a communication organ to speak to the congregation. Therefore, public prayer is not the place to preach, re-preach or rebut a sermon, make announcements, espouse a political viewpoint, make a personal attack, or tattle on another.

Prayer should be a part of your personal worship, your preparation for public worship as well as a part of enriching public worship itself. How are you doing with all this?

Four Seconds or Less

A couple had been debating the purchase of a new auto for weeks. He wanted a new truck.

She wanted a fast little sports-like car so she could zip through traffic around town.

He would probably have settled on any beat up old truck, but everything she seemed to like was way out of their price range.

“Look!” she said.  “I want something that goes from 0 to 200 in 4 seconds or less.  “And my birthday is coming up.  You could surprise me.”

For her birthday, he bought her a brand new bathroom scale.

Services will be at Downing funeral home on Wednesday the 12th. Due to the condition of the body, this will be a closed casket service.

Leading worship that makes a difference

Worship is more than just an event to entertain, inspire or bless. Worship is the relational encounter with God in which we

Praise, honor and adore God,

Tune our hearts to His heart and listen,

Learn, be reminded of, and gratefully remember what He has done,


Respond actively and obediently to Him.


Worship should result in worshipers who live in fellowship with God as obedient Christ-followers powered by the Holy Spirit- lives that undeniably reflect the fruit of the spirit. Worship should make a difference!

You should expect worship to make a difference in the lives and behavior of worshipers- and you tend to get what you expect.

“Aim for heaven and you’ll get earth thrown in, aim for earth and you’ll get neither.”  C. S. Lewis

Can you imagine worshipers expecting to encounter the God of the universe in worship, and expecting Him to change their lives and behavior to where they obediently exhibit the fruit of the spirit?   Can you see yourself planning worship with that expectation in mind?

Unfortunately, many worshipers are content to simply enjoy church, punch their ticket, and be entertained or inspired. Too many worship leaders plan worship with that expectation in mind. Aim for heaven! Step up and lead! Build worship that makes a difference!

Of course, that requires a change in focus from expecting an inspirational event to expecting a transformation in both perspective and behavior. This can be quite a shift! Any time you attempt to shift a paradigm, you run into barriers.

In his book, The Advantage, Pat Lincioni suggests 3 biases which keep leaders from embracing simplest solutions to promote organizational health. These same 3 biases can also hinder worship leaders.


Adrenaline bias

People today like excitement, and many look for an adrenaline rush, even in worship.  You fear that if you don’t generate energy in the way people are accustomed they won’t like it, so you keep things as they are.


Sophistication bias

Results oriented worship may sound difficult, demanding, and more old school than 21st century sensibilities can take.  Some may think it hyper-spiritual or even fanatical.  Some take pride in being contemporary worshipers, thinking they’ve grown beyond old fashioned ways, while others think that anything that is not liturgical is beneath their dignity. Not wanting people to think that you are not up-to-date with the latest trends in influential churches, you hesitate to lead out and take a stand.


Quantifiable bias

We are accustomed to measuring worship by the numbers: attendance, offerings, and baptisms.  Exhibiting the fruit of the spirit should be the result of life-changing worship, but that is more difficult to quantify numerically. So you shrink away, settling for the status quo.

These biases are made worse when result-oriented worship is merely considered to be a matter of style. Of course, it is not. In fact, to  build worship that makes a difference doesn’t  necessarily mean a change of style in either your music or your preaching.  It does mean a change in the purpose behind how you use those things.

No matter what style fits the culture of your church, worship is a relational encounter with God which should result in changed lives and behaviors.  You get what you expect. If the expectation for people is to merely return next week and bring an offering, you’ve set the bar too low.


Expect to encounter God in worship,

Expect to encounter Him in all of your life,

And when you encounter Him expect Him to change you,

When you encounter Him expect He’ll rearrange you,

When you encounter Him expect God to change your life!


Raining in Seattle

A newcomer to Seattle arrived on a rainy day. He got up the next day and it was raining. It also rained the day after that, and the day after that. He went out to lunch and saw a young kid and, out of despair, asked, “Hey, kid, does it ever stop raining around here?”

“How should I know?” the youngster said. “I’m only 6.”


Self-leadership is the one kind of leadership that applies to everyone. It really is the most important kind of leadership. You can’t effectively lead other people where you yourself are not going, and that begins within. Self-leadership requires both character and discipline.

You must first adhere to the standards you profess. Do what you teach, even when no one is watching. When you hold up a biblical standard, it is not just for you to preach, but also for you to live. Effective self-leadership calls for you to be brutally honest with yourself. Own your struggles. Don’t ever allow yourself to rationalize that any standards for others don’t apply to you.

Exercise the discipline to take action. Leading yourself cannot be passively sitting and thinking about what you should do. Proactively move forward by taking action steps.

So pay attention to what you put in your mind. What you consume is what you become mentally, emotionally, spiritually and intellectually.  What movies or TV shows do you watch? Where do you click online? What do you read? Who do you hang out with and listen to? Everything that you encounter, even random occurrences influence you.  Pay particularly attention to those influences that you can control and establish rituals that systematically feed your mind with things of value.

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.  Proverbs 4:23 NIV

Also, pay attention to the questions you ask. Your questions reveal your values. No matter what you profess in public, you reveal your true priorities by the questions that you ask yourself in your self-talk. You may outwardly profess a desire to lead life-changing, purposeful worship that feeds people with depth and substance. However, do you inwardly evaluate songs and sermon materials based on simply on how people will like it? Do your inmost questions about worship deal with how it transforms lives, and the resulting behavior, or how well you impress them? Pay attention, and learn from your questions.

Finally, cultivate a godly mind. Discipline and lead yourself to action based on the good, profitable thoughts in your mind.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things. Philippians 4:8 NIV

Guard what you think about and dwell on. Monitor your self-talk and master your thoughts. Formulate good and profitable ideas.

The consistency between your inner thoughts and the persona that you present on the outside constitute your authenticity. The honest evaluation of your questions will give you self-awareness to form a roadmap to help you to greater consistency, a key component of effective self-leadership.

Prayerfully work on building internal strength and discipline so that you can effectively lead yourself to live out your values. Then you can effectively lead others.

Circle Flies

After pulling a farmer over for speeding, a state trooper started to lecture him about his speed, pompously implying that the farmer didn’t know any better and trying to make him feel as uncomfortable as possible. He finally started writing out the ticket, but had to keep swatting at some flies buzzing around his head.

The farmer said, “Having some problems with circle flies there are ya?”

The trooper paused to take another swat and said, “Well, yes, if that’s what they are. I’ve never heard of circle flies.”

The farmer was pleased to enlighten the cop. “Circle flies are common on farms. They’re called circle flies because you almost always find them circling the back end of a horse.”

The trooper continues writing for a moment, then says,” Hey, are you trying to call me a horse’s behind?”

“Oh no, officer.” The farmer replies. “I have too much respect for law enforcement and police officers for that.”

“That’s a good thing,” the officer says rudely, then goes back to writing the ticket.

After a long pause, the farmer added, “Hard to fool them flies, though.”

Are You Clear?

Donald Miller in his Building a StoryBrand has the following tag line:


If you confuse you’ll lose

Noise is the enemy

Creating a clear message is the best way to grow your business


This is instructive for worship leaders.

If you confuse, you’ll lose

Be clear in the way you communicate. Clear communication means being clear as a sender and being clear to the receiver. As a sender, you must be clear in your mind what your message is and send it in such a way that you are thinking how the receiver will view it. Be very clear. Diligently avoid clichés. Explain anything that might be confusing.


Noise is the enemy

Minimize distractions- If you are not careful you can have sensory overload by adding too many cool things to your service. Obscure stories, catchy videos, overdone special effects can all be distractions, particularly when they don’t directly relate to, strengthen, and undergird your message.


Creating a clear message is the best way to grow your business. While the church is not a business, this business principle will help you relate to and reach people. Let all that you do be a part of a  clear, consistent message that ties back into your purpose.

From your website to the way you relate to people personally, to your publicity pieces, to the experience that  people have when they walk in to your building, to the  way that you structure and teach in worship- Plan everything that you do be clear and consistent in representing and communicating your purpose.


So don’t confuse, eliminate noise, and present a clear and consistent message. Your followers will be better off for it!